After winning its 23rd Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship last year, the men’s gymnastics team kicked off the 2008 season at the West Point Open in New York.
Ranked No. 11 in the country, the gymnastics team went into the tournament with confidence, and finished day one with a 339.55-point team tally, giving the Owls first place among collegiate teams.
Day two of the tournament was more of the same for Temple and they finished the event with eight gold medals.
Senior Luke Vexler, who did the best of any collegiate athlete at the open and was named Temple’s co-Most Valuable Gymnast last year, expects nothing less than a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Owls.
“This is the strongest our team has ever looked,” Vexler said. “We have a few injuries right now, but we have a lot of depth.
“We expect to do no less than what we did last year,” he added, referring to the Owls’ 11th-place finish in the NCAA Tournament. “We expect to win the conference, and our goal is top-six in the NCAA.”
Placing in the top six would mean Temple would live to compete in the second day of the tournament.
Junior John Vogtman agreed with Vexler.
“I want to do like [we did] last year, but do even higher standings in the NCAA,” Vogtman said.
Vogtman may have been the most prepared gymnast entering the season.
In August, Vogtman was selected to replace an injured gymnast at the 2007 Visa Championships in San Jose, Calif. There, he ranked 22nd of 36 competitors.
“It was a good confidence booster,” Vogtman said. “It was really cool to compete with some of the top guys [that were there]. It was a good confidence booster, and it’ll help me a lot.”
Fred Turoff, who is in his 32nd year as coach, sees promise in his squad, but doesn’t want to be too confident.
“At this point, they are better than last year, but there’s certainly a way to go,” Turoff said. “I have to believe that all the teams across the country improved.”
“Getting to the top six is a good goal, but it will depend on the quality of our performances,” he added. “Clean and consistent. . . . We need to do the cleanest gymnastics possible.”
Senior Sterling Kramer, who shared the Most Valuable Gymnast title with Vexler, is ready to get another taste of the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve made major improvements, and we want to go at the top teams,” Kramer said. “Hold nothing back this year.”
A top team is on Temple’s schedule next.
On Saturday, the Owls will travel to Penn State for a 7 p.m. match-up with last year’s NCAA Champions, the Nittany Lions. The Lions have 10 national titles in men’s gymnastics, the most of any school, and have beaten Temple in 71 of 82 matches.
Though they’ve lost to Penn State in every battle since 1995, Vexler said he hopes to show the Lions that his Owls can compete with them.
“We’re looking to perform real well, and give Penn State a run for their money,” Vexler said. “They’ll be underestimating us.”
How does Kramer prepare for the championship team?
“We prepare the same for every competition,” he said. “We want to create a mental picture for ourselves of that gym. But all equipment is the same – a high bar is a high bar, a vault is a vault, a pommel horse is a pommel horse and so on.”
Above a chalkboard in the McGonigle Hall gym where the Owls practice are the words: “2007 ECAC Men’s Gymnastics Champions.”
Turoff said he thinks that might help motivate his team.
“It reminds them we had a great season last year and want to repeat it,” Turoff said. “It’s pretty standard what we do. The guys are back Dec. 25. [They’re] expected to be in shape. Then it’s a routine push like every team in the country.
“Feb. 7 to 9…the national team selection,” Turoff continued. “Hopefully, we’ll have ourselves a good time.”
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.